Monday the wee one came home frustrated that her class has been chosen to sing “Joy To The World, My Shopping’s Done” in this year’s school holiday pageant. They made it about getting things, she said, but holidays are supposed to be about giving and being together. And so we sent a timely note to school, excusing her from the pageant and all related planning activities. And the very next day, in art class, while the rest of the class glued price tags and fake dollar bills to their decorative paper pageant hats, my daughter cheerfully constructed a hat for the girl who was absent.
We’re proud of our child for working to live out her principles. We are proud, too, of her ability to see and articulate their incidence, and to seek reassurance and help to practice them effectively and without confrontation. And we are thrilled to find, just hours later, that the new Pope’s papal platform – one founded on denouncing trickle-down commercialism, and the renunciation of its detrimental social effects – marks our child as prescient, indeed.
But as parents, we are also, unabashedly, proud of ourselves. For the expression of the spirit of commerce in its myriad forms is great and everpresent, and its antithesis few and far between, in our larger society. If the expression of discomfort at its practice came from anywhere, it came – in large part – from us.
This is not a political blog. Since our inception in 2007, however, we have done our part at Cover Lay Down to fight back against the subtle tyrannies of the consumptive society. Our insistence on offering links to purchase and stream music from sources closest to the hearts and wallets of the artists themselves, and our refusal to provide ads on this space, stem from an articulated desire to “walk the walk” of ethical consumption. And because a blog is dialogic, so do we also, from time to time, step up onto the soapbox to speak out specifically on why, and how, to better support the local and the intimate – a position befitting a blog whose ethnomusical mandate explores the coincidence of sharing-through-coverage and the communal purposefulness of folk.
Today, then, for the second year in a row, we take the time to provide our own antithesis to the buy-everything-now message that seems to typify the ever-lengthening holiday season in the Western world by offering a 2013 edition of our anti-commercialist, pro-artist gift giving guide for the holidays – a harbinger of things to come after almost three months of sparse sabbatical. Read on for last year’s treatise, plus an updated list of methods and mechanisms for supporting the local and the soul-serving this giving season…and, of course, a few songs to get you into the spirit.
Black Friday is duly noted for causing havoc and stress in the mass marketplace. But if we greet its well-intentioned antithesis Buy Nothing Day with suspicion here at Cover Lay Down, it is because there is nothing inherently anti-commercial about merely deferring product-purchase if we still plan to make it to the mall eventually.
Concerns about the way big business undermines and eats away at the profitability of direct creator-to-consumer relationships are real and valid, of course. But to see consumption as all or nothing is problematic: those who quite literally refuse to buy things unwittingly undermine their own communities, for example, by cutting into taxes for schools and roads, and by destroying the ability of neighborhood artists and local community retailers to survive doing what they love.
Happily, however, there’s a whole spectrum of opportunity outside of the false dichotomy of Black Friday and Buy Nothing Day. And the answer isn’t buying nothing – it’s buying local.
We’ve long championed buying local here at Cover Lay Down. We frequent local farmer’s markets and crafts fairs; we buy apples from orchards, and beer from the brewery; we keep maple syrup and honey that was harvested by friends. In our musical purchases, we try to buy at shows, as this tends to provide the most money for artists, and helps support local venues; we’ve posted about library finds several times, too, and celebrate regional labels and artists wherever possible.
But in the digital age, buying local means not only supporting your local shops, producers, and buskers – it also means supporting the small, the immediate, the independent, and the community-minded. As such, wherever possible, the links which we offer alongside our downloadables and streams go directly to artist websites and other artist-recommended sources, the better to respect the rights and ongoing careers of creators and craftspersons everywhere.
Which is to say: we’re about authenticity and sustainability here, a set of concepts deeply entwined with the organic and acoustic music we celebrate. With that in mind, here’s some suggestions for how to honor the community sentiment which stands at the foundation of folk music, even as you look for ways to show your appreciation and love this holiday season.
1. Give the gift of recorded music. Cover Lay Down stands behind every artist we blog, and many of our regular features, such as our New Artists, Old Songs series, focus on new and newly-reconsidered music and musicians worth sharing with friends. So browse our archives and your own, and then buy CDs and downloads for friends and family direct from artist websites, independent artist-friendly labels like Signature Sounds, Compass, Waterbug, Bloodshot, Red House, and Sugar Hill Records, promotional houses like Hearth Music and Mishara Music, and small artist collaboratives and fan-fueled microlabels like Mason Jar Music, Yer Bird, Rarebird, Northplatte, and Asthmatic Kitty. Or, if you prefer to centralize your shopping, skip the chain stores and internet behemoths that undermine local mom-and-pops and pay mere pennies on the dollar, and shop instead at your local struggling music shop, Bandcamp, CD Baby, or even Etsy.
2. Give the gift of subscription. It is still a matter of debate in the music community whether the proliferation of digital streaming services is bad, potentially career-smothering news for artists. But some artists offer “backstage passes” or “VIP” access to their art and its craft, and the benefits – which can include exclusive demo tracks, concert streams, early access to new studio work, and deep discounts – are generally worth the cost. Last year’s favorite model, Jake Armerding’s Music Is Food CSA project, provided a monthly virtual “box” of song and artwork for just a dollar a month; this year, the trend has turned to projects in which patrons themselves have a voice in the creative process through feedback and demo-testing. For those ready to take the plunge, we recommend El Dorado, a subscription service from Clem Snide founder Eef Barzelay in which patrons receive and inspire a new, exclusive 3-5
song EP each month, and pay-what-you-feel projects from Merry Ellen Kirk, Jess Klein, and others at Patronism.org, which offer access to their entire body of work, alongside opportunities to become an active part of the creation process as new songs emerge.
3. Give the gift of access. Spring for a gift subscription to Daytrotter ($32/year) for the music lover in your life, and let them download years worth of studio sessions and stream exclusive live sessions from a broad set of musicians. Buy them a Skype session with a favorite folk musician, such as Denison Witmer, who turned to the medium in order to spend more time with his wife and newborn son. Or sign them up for Concert Window, a free-for-trial service which offers live concerts almost every night from some of our favorite folk venues, and where two-thirds of profits go to musicians and venues. The live performances and sessions which these subscriptions net can be viewed alone, or shared with a friend over a beer on the couch – and the virtual concert is especially apt for friends housebound by physical limitation, geographical isolation, or preference.
4. Give the gift of time. It’s good to get out with friends, and shared experiences make the best kinds of gifts; by linking directly to artist web pages, we make it as easy as possible to check out tour dates. Support your local coffeehouse or small venue by booking a table or row for you and your loved ones. Take a child to their first concert, and open up their world to the immediacy and intimacy of live performance. Take a friend, or a group, and open them up to a new artist’s work. Or host a successful house concert, and invite friends, the better to share the artists and music you love.
5. Give the gift of artistic sustainability. Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Pledge Music help artists make art, and donations in someone else’s name are always a nice gift – it shows you’re thinking of them, and it honors the connection you share through music. And just as donating to your local radio station can net you a free mug, crowdfunding comes with the promise of product – a reward you can redirect, if you give in someone else’s name. So browse the folk categories on each site, or ask around for recommendations on what to support. Some local examples we’re excited to share this year: folk duo The Sea, The Sea, who we have both championed and hosted locally, are currently raising funds for an official release of stunning debut album Love We Are Love; preorder, or pay up for some bonuses, and both you and your gift recipient get to help ensure that the album gets the promotion and production it deserves. Boston-based CLD fave countryfolk singer-songwriter Amy Black, who charmed us with gorgeous solo Kris Delmhorst and Loretta Lynn covers back in 2011, is eager to release This Is Home, a sophomore solo CD recorded last summer in Nashville; bonus levels here include a sweet 4-song EP of covers recently recorded in Muscle Shoals with Spooner Oldham and Will Kimbrough and a personalized video performance. Farther afield, Austin, Texas Americana scenestress Raina Rose, who funded her own Kickstarter album successfully last year, continues to tout projects from a talented network of young artists, including up and coming releases from Alexa Woodward and J. Wagner. And parents and kidfolk lovers will be especially proud to support Lullabies and Songs of Comfort, a new project in the works from tour buddies and fellow folkmamas Edie Carey and Sarah Sample which promises a sweet mix of the old and the new for all ages.
6. Give the gift of promotion. This one is mostly about giving the artists themselves some of your hard-earned time and energy, but artists need gifts, too. So like artists’ Facebook pages, and show others in your feed what you are listening to, the better to spread the word. Join a street team, and volunteer (by yourself or with a friend, as a fun gift date) to help sell CDs, hang posters, or man the door at local coffeehouses and clubs, thus freeing artists to spend their time playing, meeting the crowd, and sustaining their own fan base. Start a blog, for you or a friend, or donate to support one in their name.
7. Stay tuned. Looking for something a little more concrete in the way of coverfolk recommendations? Willing to wait for a few more weeks to decide which albums to purchase for your loved ones and friends? Just as we did last year, Cover Lay Down will be sharing our “best of 2013″ by mid-December; the items on those lists constitute our highest recommendations, and function as a concise gift guide for the coverfolk lover in your life. And if it’s holiday music you’re looking for, just wait until next week, when we kick off our coverage of this year’s seasonal releases…
Until then, here’s a short set of relevant covers to get you in the gift-giving spirit.